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Sail Date: April 2016
I enjoyed being on the boat, watching the scenery go by and falling to sleep with the movement. Almost everything else was a bust. Being an experienced traveler, I understand and expect that I will be required to suck up some inconviences ... Read More
I enjoyed being on the boat, watching the scenery go by and falling to sleep with the movement. Almost everything else was a bust. Being an experienced traveler, I understand and expect that I will be required to suck up some inconviences and disapointments on a vacation, but when this is true everyday in some way or another, there is a problem. I am an avid gardener and cook. One reason I like to go to Europe is for the very quality of the food. The cruise food was good for breakfast and that spread was incredible. I can't say as much for the other meals. I would say, if you like Applebees, you will probably enjoy this cruise food. I know from experience that I get thirsty when I eat processed foods and I was very thirsty after eating the cruise meals. One meal was particularly disappointing. As we were approaching Budapest, the Hungarian chief prepared what was called goulash. What was served was chips of beef covered in a sauce. Hungarian goulash is a soup. The cruise included free beer and wine with the meals. These were poured from Viking labeled bottles. These products were clearly inferior. While it was, initially, just another "suck it up" irritation, it became truely abnoxious as we traveled through Germany and sampled some of the world's best beers when we were off the ship. I am not a heavy drinker, and Viking only found cost savings in my case on a single serving of beer per day. For what we paid for the trip, that was unreasonable. The outtings were short. Each excursion involved assembly in the parking lot and ussually a bus trip of 30 minutes to 2 hours. When the assembly started at 9 or ten, and concluded by getting us back on the ship by four, the tours you see pictured in the brochures are often as short as one hour. The guided tours are of mixed quality, rangeing from inciteful, fun and highly educational to a complete waste of expensive travel time. Be prepared that tips are expected everywhere on this "all inclusive" trip, including the tour guides. My most serious complaint was with the double docking. In many ports, especially in Germany, Viking only used one slip for as many as three ships, connecting the ships sideways. If you are paying extra for a balcony, it is a complete waste when this happens. The side of the ship with the most exclusive staterooms is always in the outside, but even those may be locked in when they connect three boats. You pass through the boat on the dock side, and several times the stench on that boat was bad. It was some combination of mildew and sewage. I found it very claustrophobic, but it also is a safety hazzard. There is no way off the boat through the window, only the single route though the stateroom door, then down the hall. I'm not sure how that even passes safety regulations. It would be a deathtrap in a fire and would never be allowed for a hotel or apartment. You end up spending evenings socializing with your shipmates. Every dinner you are seared at tables of 6 and 8 travelers, followed by cocktail parties in the lounge, where alcohol is additional, and is charged to your room. This can get tedious or worse. You have to feel your way around all the lifestyle, political and religious issues Americans feel so strongly about. Affluent, older, Christian, conservatives are going to find themselves most suited to this socializing. Overall, I'm glad to have gone, but we spent A LOT of money on this, and I would say it was a very poor value. We were given vouchers to apply toward a future cruise, but we chose to take half the value in cash. We might try a National Geographic cruise, but not Viking again. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2002
A Russian Adventure The stark white and dark brown of the bark of the birch tree (Russia's national tree) stood as sentinels guarding the towering green pines in the background as we glided along the beautiful and ... Read More
A Russian Adventure The stark white and dark brown of the bark of the birch tree (Russia's national tree) stood as sentinels guarding the towering green pines in the background as we glided along the beautiful and pristine shorelines of Russian rivers. Our Russian adventure began Sept. 15, 2002 in St. Petersburg as we boarded the Viking River Cruise ship "Kirov" with some 130 passengers from United States as well as England. The 400 ft. Kirov is compact but comfortable with all the amenities needed for a pleasant trip including two bars, two dining rooms, a library, beauty salon, gift shop and sauna. Joining Joan and me on this two-week Russian adventure was a couple from Sarasota, Alice and Roger. Our travel agent had introduced us a year ago as we planned a trip through France, departing 9/11. Since then we have become good friends. The Kirov's captain and crew were Russian and the chef Austrian. The food was good and served attractively (about a B+/A-) with red or white wine served at lunch and dinner. However, we think the complimentary wine was a tad above grape juice, about 9% by volume, as after many glasses it had no affect. The open seating policy in the dining room made it easy to get acquainted with fellow adventurers during the cruise. We found this "Waterway of the Czars" attracted a more interesting traveler than you are likely to meet on a 2,000 plus passenger cruise ship. Rain greeted us in St. Petersburg as we toured some of the famous and fabulous sites as the Hermitage Museum, Catherine the Great's summer palace, beautiful Russian Orthodox Churches and a visit to Peter the Great's magnificent summer home, Peterhof. I saw my first ballet, "Swan Lake," in this city. Joan asked me if I would go again? In replying to that request, I said "When you go to an NFL football game, I'll go to another ballet." Our Russian guide, Gennady, spoke excellent English and has visited the U.S. on six occasions. His five years of guiding tours complimented the many attractive sights as he explained in detail the different sites and cities we visited during the two-week trip. Once we left St. Petersburg, the rain stopped, the sun shown and the night skies clear enough to bring on heavy frosts. We layered clothes, shivered and enjoyed this pristine country side and vibrant cities. From St. Petersburg, we stopped at Kizhi Island, a beautiful spot in Lake Onega. The cathedral there is unique. The fairy-tale-like Church of the Transfiguration, built in 1714, is made entirely of weathered wood with more than 20 onion domes that glowed like silver in the cold morning sun. While cruising for six days, including 16 locks, the Viking people introduced us to the history and present economic details of life in Russia. A lady with two doctorates to her name, gave five lectures while our guide Gennady gave two lessons in the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet. We didn't do well with these lessons! During our last three days of the tour in Moscow, a world class city, we visited inside the Kremlin walls and the Kremlin's Armory museum where we saw incredibly ornate carriages used by the czars for official occasions. Lenin's Tomb was viewed from the outside as it wasn't open during our stay. The sunlight striking the multicolored domes of St. Basil's cathedral in Red Square was an inspiration in itself. Legend has it that, after Ivan the Terrible had St. Basil's built, he had the architect blinded so he could never again create something so beautiful. Following an hour and a half drive through interesting suburbs and countryside, we came to the Trinity Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk). This is the famous fortress monastery of St. Seregius. The monastery is best know for the blue-domed Assumption Cathedral, towering in the brilliant sunlight over the white stonewalls of the monastery. Along with hundreds of other visitors, we enjoyed a few minutes of a Russian Orthodox service with beautiful chanting and hymns. After Red Square, we were ready for the fun of Arbat Street, a cobbled pedestrian mall flanked by sidewalk cafes, bars and shops. Scores of vendor stands offered every conceivable souvenir: nesting Matroshka dolls, shawls, lacquered boxes, amber jewelry, fur hats emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. The U.S. currency was welcomed almost every place in Russia with the notable exception of rest rooms. But a few Rubles kept attendants happy. Our last evening in Moscow was spent at the theatre enjoying a folk dance performance of over 100 dance professionals. Their intricate dancing and the various beautiful and ornate costumes was a fitting farewell of our Russian adventure. We found the Russian folks friendly and always willing to help us with most speaking enough English to satisfy our needs. The ship's staff, particularly the dining attendants, were always courteous and well trained. The cities, although drab at times, spoke of a new vibrant Russia. The core city was filled with upscale prestigious international shops offering fashionable clothes and appliances. Everywhere throughout every cruise stop, reconstruction was evident as the Russians brought there buildings into the next century. We did not see any individual homes in the major cities. Rather the nine and one-half million Russians living in Moscow reside in mile after mile of apartment buildings. Traffic jams filled the six-lane streets while people parked their cars on the sidewalks and in the outside driving lanes. Thousands of billboards stood as sentinels every quarter mile on almost every street and building. Someone forgot to enact a sign ordinance and of course, these signs are all in the Cyrillic alphabet! Both our Sarasota friends, Alice and Roger, and ourselves left Russia and the Russian people with a new understanding of a great country and a warm friendly people. Arriving home after 24 hours of travel, we remembered the gleaming domes of the Kremlin, the old ladies in Uglich selling wild flowers and the statue of Mother Volga blessing the river with her arms outstretched. gjm4700@comcast.netDecember 2002 Read Less
Sail Date: June 2004
My review: Charlotte and I just returned Sunday night from a 12 day visit to Russia through Viking River Cruises. We flew from Atlanta to Paris and connected with Air France to Moscow. Boarded a large Viking Russian river cruiser, MS ... Read More
My review: Charlotte and I just returned Sunday night from a 12 day visit to Russia through Viking River Cruises. We flew from Atlanta to Paris and connected with Air France to Moscow. Boarded a large Viking Russian river cruiser, MS Pakhomov and spent three nights on board as a hotel in Moscow. Spent our anniversary in Red square. We got to see Putin and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch as they came out of a Kremlin church. The churches are magnificent - covered with icons. People are very friendly. Traffic in Moscow was worst than Atlanta, LA, etc. City of 25 million who are now buying autos on roads built in the 30's. The Moscow subway carries 9 million people daily and the stations are like art museums with marble statues, paintings, frescos - and they are spotless! People were very nice. Saw the Moscow circus, KGB headquarters, Kremlin, St. Basil, palaces, palaces, palaces. The biggest surprise - the young women - they are gorgeous. Then cruised up the Volga River visiting, the small towns of Uglich, Yaroslavl, and Kostroma, and Kizhi were we saw the wooden church built with out nails on 1 mile between 4 mile island. On the way I made my Russian singing debut, singing "Some Enchanting Evening" during passenger night. Cruised up the Neva River and then the Svir into St. Petersburg. Saw Peter and Catherine's castles. the Hermitage the gold, amber, and Wedgwood on the walls, ceilings, staircases is incredible. Went to the Marinsky Opera house where we saw "Samson and Delila" and to the St. Petersburg theater and saw "Swan Lake". We had lunch with a very modest Russian family in their small flat on the 4th (walk up). Grandma was a big women. Her daughter a beautiful blue eyed blond who dances in the Bolshi ballet, and her 18 year old daughter who is studying ballet. It was a wonderful meal and a memorable experience. This and many other optional tours were arrange by our travel agent and dear friend Shirley Binder. She gave us a completer turn-key package on several trips. You will be pleased with her service - her e-mail is shibin@aol.com St. Petersburg is the Venice of the north with canals throughout the city. Gets to -40 F in the winter. More that 30%of the land in Moscow and St. Petersburg is devoted to parks. Many statues of Lenin... Stalin nowhere to be seen. Of the 200 passengers on board and we have traveled with 34 of them before on other Viking Cruises, so it was like a big family reunion. More churches in Russia (and they are active) than Italy. I purchased the new Sony DCRDVD camcorder that writes directly on DVD. The pictures and color are fantastic. Have 9 1/2 hours of video plus over 450 digital stills. The crew and staff on board could not have been nicer. Would be our number 1 recommendation to anyone traveling to Europe for the first time or considering going back again. Richard and Charlotte Loehn Read Less
Sail Date: July 2004
I was one of 50 mostly "seasoned" travelers who signed up with Smithsonian Journeys for a trip from Moscow to Saint Petersburg on the Sergei Kirov (named for a well-liked Communist Party leader) that is now run by Viking River ... Read More
I was one of 50 mostly "seasoned" travelers who signed up with Smithsonian Journeys for a trip from Moscow to Saint Petersburg on the Sergei Kirov (named for a well-liked Communist Party leader) that is now run by Viking River Cruises under a joint venture between a Russian and a Swiss firm. Its sister ship, the Viking Pakhomov, was recently rated by Richard Loehn, who pretty well covered the itinerary, so I will focus more on the voyage itself. The ship, like so many of those now plying the same route (Moscow Canal, Volga River, Lake Rybinsk, Lake Onega, Svir River, Lake Ladoga, and Neva River), was designed and built in East Germany in the late 1980s. It has been refurbished a few times since, and both it and the Pakhomov are marketed solely to the English-speaking market. (The other 150 passengers on our ship were either Brits, or Americans who'd booked their trip directly with the line). All personnel who had contact with passengers spoke at least enough English to handle their jobs. The cruise manager, Michael Bordokoff, is an American of Russian descent, with an ideal personality for that function. The waitresses and female bartenders looked really young, with flawless complexions and most of them with natural blond hair. The ship has three passenger decks, a library, two dining rooms (open seating but you are assigned to either one or the other, and there's just one sitting, with the exact timing adapted to the tour schedule), two bars, a sun deck, and a few other deck areas for sitting or fitness walking. There are NO elevators, which means that people who have trouble climbing stairs should probably not take this trip - also the means of exiting the ship can pose minor hazards - Smithsonian made sure to warn us of all this in advance. The gift shop is barely worth mentioning. There is NO source of between-meal snacks and NO availability at all of news bulletins or even weather forecasts. The satellite phone for outbound calls didn't work. One is truly incommunicado. Most of the cabins are 90 sq. ft., with narrow twin beds covered with a blanket in a spotless white duvet. Many in our group regarded these accommodations as very small - some had tried to obtain larger ones but there are relatively few of them. All cabins are outside, have plenty of storage space, and a small refrigerator. Cabins are immaculately clean, used towels replaced twice daily, and the temperature is individually controlled (the a/c can be deafening, though). The shower system is unique, clever and a source of jokes, and hard for people accustomed to paying for more luxurious quarters to adapt to. It's important to remember that this is a river cruise through a part of the world that has only recently opened up to tourists, and one should not expect a traditional "cruise ship." And, by the way, we almost never felt the motion of the boat. The ship has a draft of only 10 feet, and the waterways were not deep. We truly "glided!" The food was excellent. The executive chef is Swiss, as is the hotel manager. Early continental breakfast in the forward bar, slightly later full breakfast buffet and to-order fare in the dining rooms. Four-course lunches and dinners (salad or salad buffet, soup, entree, dessert). Always two choices of entree and dessert. Portions modest but satisfying, and everything very artistically arranged on the plates. I suppose the only criticism might be that there isn't enough "typically Russian" food. Most passengers get all their meals on board or in a snack box taken on the tours, so there's not much chance to eat a meal in a Russian venue. All passengers go out on shore excursions on buses with good guides provided by the line - often substituted at intervals by guides that must by law be hired locally or at specific sites. The Smithsonian Journeys group had a slightly different itinerary that included three lunches in typical Russian restaurants that cater to tour groups. There is also an on-board lecturer (Russian woman) who was very well liked by all the passengers - a dynamic speaker, covering both history and current Russian politics. Group lessons in Russian were also given. There are a few days "sailing" when no land tours are taken, so these events are welcome. There's some interest in watching the ship go through many locks. In the evenings (except in St. Petersburg when there were tours to ballet, a canal cruise and a folklore show) a combo or pianist played in the bar, or there was a "crew show" and a "passenger talent show" plus a good folklore show. We also had - at extra cost, a caviar tasting and a vodka tasting, on separate nights. The vodka tasting especially was a lot of fun, as a lot of Russian jokes were told (in English). On caviar night - actually held before dinner - we learned a lot about the various types and why they're so expensive. Daily handouts gave full information about the stops we'd make, a detailed schedule for every day. It seemed to me that there should have been more announcements about places of interest that the ship was passing - I can recall only two or three landmarks that were pointed out. We did not see much wildlife at all, and of course we were traveling in some very lightly populated areas so the scenery did not vary much. We stopped at Uglich (home of the famous watch factory - sold for $20 each), Yaroslavl and Kostroma, and Kizhi. The first three are thriving towns/cities in which I'd liked to have lingered a bit to observe the locals after the obligatory visits to churches and monasteries. Kizhi is more of a "museum" and not inhabited except during the tourist season. This was a great way to see some of Russia - I'd recommend a post-cruise or pre-cruise day or two in either Moscow or Saint Petersburg if you really want to see either place more thoroughly. The cruise that starts in Moscow really gives it short shrift, focusing more on three days in Saint Petersburg. The cruise that starts in Saint Petersburg gives two days there and, I heard, a bit more time in Moscow. Always work with a travel agent because of the need to obtain visas that specify EXACTLY the days you will arrive in Russia and leave Russia - also you may have to obtain an "invitation" from a hotel that you plan to stay in before or after your cruise. The "invitation" from the cruise line won't cover those days. Reports I heard indicate this takes some time and effort. Shopping: People seemed to be particularly interested in amber jewelry. There certainly were a lot of beautiful items at varying prices. I bought mainly nesting dolls and Christmas ornaments, plus two watches. Russians haven't yet caught on to Americans' interest in t-shirts and coffee mugs. I also bought the tourist books, beautifully illustrated w/photos of buildings and interiors that one could never take on one's own. Dress: Smithsonian guests, female, were advised to take a skirt and also a head covering in order to visit certain of the churches. The skirts are not really necessary, we found. Pants are OK, as Russians have become resigned to the outfits favored by tourists. The main prohibition is against shorts and short dresses/skirts. Head coverings are needed from time to time. Photography: A modest fee - no more than US$3 and usually less - may be charged for use of your camera in certain churches or museums - your guide will tell you. Make your decision when you enter because it's hard to go back and find the permit-seller after your group has passed through the ticket takers. A higher fee may be charged for videotaping. Just remember these churches need to spend a lot on reconstruction and preservation and the extra money presumably will help. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2007
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than ... Read More
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than lectures, nothing else on a daily basis except Russian themed movies which were decades old. The dinner service was adequate but preparation was definitely lacking...no spices, bland food though the herring was great for me! No exercise activities onboard nor no spa type equipment. Without ones' books you'd be hardpressed to find something to do after dinner. This ship will be totally renovated into a deluxe all suite ship for the 2008 cruising season...let's look forward to many changes. A suggestion to all Russian river cruise companies: due to the heavy traffic in Moscow and St. Petersburg, all the passengers should be put up in local hotels in these two cities to cut down on the 2 hour drive from the boat to the city for sightseeing...so much wasted time and extremely tiring. There is an operator of river cruises that does exactly this..shouldn't be a big problem and very good for the passengers. Thanks see you on the river!!! Read Less
Sail Date: June 2008
We do not do cruises. Going to sea in a floating hotel has absolutely no appeal, and having to dress for dinner while on vacation is definitely not something we want to do. On the other hand there are some trips that make more sense when ... Read More
We do not do cruises. Going to sea in a floating hotel has absolutely no appeal, and having to dress for dinner while on vacation is definitely not something we want to do. On the other hand there are some trips that make more sense when done by ship than by any other means of transport, and St. Petersburg to Moscow (or the other way around) is one of them. We had previously done only one other river cruise and that was on the Nile (not a trip offered by Viking) where the lack of suitable alternative accommodations made the ship essential, at least for Westerners accustomed to a certain level of comfort, health, and safety. While infrastructure in Russia and Egypt are vastly different the waterways make this a good way to travel in this part of Russia. Although Viking offers to arrange for air transport to the port of embarkation we elected to make our own arrangements, but we did take advantage of Viking's airport to ship transfers. Unless you can read Russian words in Cyrillic text it's probably best to take Viking's transfers both to and from the ship because the airports are a long distance from the docks, none of the road signs are in Roman text, and from what we heard, many taxi drivers have limited or no comprehension of English. One thing to consider when meeting a cruise ship or any other organized tour with a scheduled departure, is allowing sufficient time to get to the starting point. This was made obvious to us when our initial flight from LAX was cancelled when the aircraft was found to be not airworthy (after all passengers were aboard with seat belts fastened). Our original itinerary included a change of planes before leaving the US and we would have missed that connection because of the cancelled flight. A second connecting flight likewise became doubtful when weather at the connecting city delayed flights there. Finally, after almost 12 hours at LAX we departed on a non-stop flight to London. Since we had planned a short stay in London there was never any doubt that we would get to St. Petersburg a few days later in time for the ship's departure but had we planned to arrive just in time for embarking on the cruise we may have "missed the boat." Lesson learned. To call Viking's "Waterways of the Csars" a cruise is a bit of a misnomer because the ship is small (106 staterooms) compared to the behemoths usually associated with the word "cruise" and dress is always on the casual side, even at the "Captain's Dinner." Many men and women (there were no children on board) did "dress for dinner" but "business casual" was more the rule; nary a tux wax seen. Viking claims to "operate our ships according to the highest standards of Swiss hotel management" and they live up to that claim. The main purpose of the ship is transportation not entertainment although there was certainly no lack of things to do while underway. More on that later. The Viking Surkov has very recently been "extensively" renovated according to Viking, and it shows. The good news is that the interior of the ship is all new, and very well done at that. Everything that Viking says about the cruise was true - these folks know how to provide an excellent travel experience. The bad news is that the ship was apparently put into service before the renovations were complete. Our cruise was the third sailing since the ship left the yard and according to the staff there had been no shakedown cruise before the first revenue cruise. Two problems persisted for the entire cruise - staterooms were either cold (as was ours, which was consistently less than 20 deg C for all but a few hours) or hot, that is, some were hot and some cold, but we heard no complaints from passengers that any staterooms were alternately cold and hot, and there was an occasional odor of sewage in various locations throughout the ship but fortunately for us not in our stateroom. The sewage smell was the lesser problem for most of us (judging by the scuttlebutt) since it was generally neither severe nor persistent, though we know of one of the single cabins that remained somewhat smelly (and HOT) for the duration. Except for the problems with temperature control the staterooms were quite nice. (See Cabin Guru, below) On board, all expenses not included in the tour package (optional tours, adult beverages, laundry service, internet access, etc.) are billed in "units" which are at parity with Euros but apparently Viking is not permitted to call it that. A few days prior to the end of the cruise a final statement was issued and henceforth all purchases were cash (rubles) or credit card. Viking cannot exchange currencies on board but on most shore excursions there was an opportunity to convert US dollars. UK pounds, or Euros to rubles. In the big cities ATMs are easy to find. We (the two of us) brought the ruble equivalent of about US$500 with us and had rubles left over. We don't spend much on drinks or souvenirs so your mileage may vary. Ah, yes. Drinks. With wine by the glass typically priced at 6 units (almost US$10 at the ship's Euro-dollar exchange rate) if you want wine with most meals it would probably make sense to sign up for the beverage package when you book. I don't recall the details but I think it gets you unlimited drinks for a fixed price. I saw plenty of wine served at meals but got the definite impression from one passenger at least that the wines served were not of the quality we Californians expect to get at home at very modest prices. The ship's crew is all Russian, as is the dining room staff (mostly waitresses and a few waiters) but the on-board management apparently consists only of German nationals. The tour guides for the shore excursions are all Russians with excellent command of English and superior knowledge of their subject. Unlike the tour guides, the dining room staff had limited ability to converse with us in English. There was never any difficulty communicating about menu choices, but questions such as "What is this item on the menu?" never got a satisfactory answer. The menu had a definite international flavor with familiar items from the Continent and some unfamiliar Russian dishes. Even when choosing a menu item with an unfamiliar name and without a description, nothing truly bizarre appeared at the table. Overall we ate quite well on board and all meals were included. With almost the same number of crew as passengers, the overall level of service throughout the cruise was excellent. The passengers were mostly from the US, UK, and the antipodes, including more than thirty Australians travelling as a group. This being a rather pricey boat ride, the passengers were of course rather well off and for the most part were beyond retirement age, some way beyond. Several folks used wheelchairs or canes and even with these required appliances most (but not all) of the shore excursions were well within their capabilities. That is not to say that the shore excursions involved little walking because walk we did. However, the pace was set to accommodate those with less than youthful mobility. For each shore excursion the routine was similar. Prior to leaving the ship all passengers exchange the magnetic card key to the stateroom for a small card that shows the port location (in Russian) so in the unlikely event of getting separated from the group the card can be presented to any taxi driver (presumably they are all literate in Russian) to arrange transport back to the ship. This scheme also allows for "taking attendance" prior to the ship's departure thus assuring that no one gets left behind. Something like that could ruin your whole day. The Viking website covers the details of the shore excursions, but this is a review of the cruise so I'll limit my comments about the shore excursions. Viking offered either as part of the package or as options, excursions that covered the key places in Russia that are listed in "1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List" by Patricia Schultz (the book, not the barely watchable hokey home video shown on the Travel Channel) and that was one of the reasons we took this cruise. One of the tradeoffs involved in group travel is that word "group." Being part of a group imposes some limits on how to spend time; for example, in museums we got to see a lot of art but which particular art and how long we could view it was not up to the individual. And let there be no doubt, there is a lot of art to see! Our guides did schedule some "free time" at several locations so we sometimes had the opportunity to choose how to spend our time. The Russian guides (as mentioned earlier) were very knowledgeable. We had guides that live on board, and at some locations we had a local guide with the specialized knowledge appropriate to that location or museum. For those of us who were primarily interested in the cultural aspects of the cruise, these are the people that made the trip truly worthwhile. For the first shore excursion we picked a guide and a bus and that guide became "our" guide for the duration of the cruise. We had the good fortune to select the oldest of the group and she turned out to be an exceptional guide with experience as a guide beginning in 1960. The crew and guides sign on for six months of cruising, and as the captain explained during our visit to the bridge, the ship's crew works for six months without a day off. The officers and crew demonstrated excellent seamanship throughout the voyage and the weather cooperated to the extent that no one seemed to get seasick. Even on the larger bodies of water (lakes and reservoirs) the surface was relatively calm so most of the time there was little evidence of motion while underway. The on board activities included vodka tasting, caviar tasting (we skipped both), an amateur night where the passengers presented a modestly produced variety show, and several sessions on Russian history. Near the end of the trip we were offered a question and answer session with the guides. As for the history sessions, this was conducted in the large lounge/bar set up like a meeting room with the guides at the front of the room facing an audience of passengers. With a standing room only crowd the guides bravely fielded questions about all aspects of Russian life, both present and in Soviet times. One of the guides is old enough to have remembered life during the Nazi invasion and the aftermath of what the Russians call The Great Patriotic War (that's WWII to most of us). While all of the questions from passengers were politely phrased and considerate of our hosts, we got into some rather blunt political discussions, for example. It quickly became obvious that Russia is no longer the Evil Empire of Soviet times. Also obvious from what we heard during this Q&A was that the Russian population is a tough bunch of people who have endured some really terrible times. The Romanovs were truly awful rulers, Stalin was even worse, the subsequent Communist rulers were incompetent at best (so far no surprises), and a real surprise (to me at least) was the Russians' opinion of Gorbachev and Putin. Gorby got a mere 1% of the vote the last time he ran for office (it seems that he is universally disliked for causing incredible hardship during the unplanned transition to a free economy), and they finally have a ruler in Putin that has brought them both stability and a functioning economy. Putin may be trying to control his domestic media (and perhaps crown himself emperor) but there is apparently no restriction on what Russians may read or access from beyond the borders of Russia. These people have access to the same sources of news that we have and they clearly take advantage of the opportunity to learn from those sources. All expressed their opinions, apparently without reservation, and not all opinions were flattering to the state. Debarkation was uneventful and as well organized as the other aspects of our journey. It wasn't Viking's fault that our early morning flight from Moscow required a 1:15 am wake up call. I went to Russia expecting to visit a more or less third world country (albeit one with a big army and some nukes) but came home with the realization that Russia has changed a lot in the past ten years or so. St. Petersburg and Moscow are both rapidly becoming truly modern European cities and in both cities the amount of construction and infrastructure restoration activity is impressive. The people living in the small cities and towns we visited don't seem to be any more isolated than folks living in America's heartland (and we know that they are not isolated). Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the ... Read More
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the "Waterways of the Czars" cruise;the boat in Moscow is between 60 and 90 minutes by coach from the city centre;it is a 20 min walk then 25 min metro journey to the centre. In St Petersburg it is 45 min min to the centre by coach;or 20 mins bus then 20 mins metro to the centre. The cabin details are incorrect.In the 2008 brochure the cabin has a plan showing a table abd two chairs by the window;these do not exist. There is a photo also showing this;in the 2009 brochure the plan has gone but the photo is still there (with a note saying it isn't an actual photo!) We booked the boat partly because we thought we could sit in our cabin looking out onto the waterways whilst sitting at our table reading,drinking etc etc.No. Other cabins were close to the engines,had a pillar AND a column (making easy access impossible);and ours had a set of steps and a table/chairs outside when the diagram did not show this. All in all,a MISLEADING brochure. Be careful - when booking.The booking staff are charming - and inefficient.On four separate instances mistakes were made in the documentation (no cabin allocated,wrong date on the visa application,wrong names on the transfer sheets,no documentation for transfer hotel provided etc). Doing it yourself is cheaper and more sure. Be careful - when at dinner.It is supposed to be open seating but some passengers can reserve seating;we never found out how (we had the most expensive cabin) but it would have been nice to avoid the twice daily bunfight for a couples table.Order your drinks BEFORE food if you want drinks with your meal rather than after.A couple of senior restaurant staff patrolled the dining area but never appeared to put right the clear deficiencies (the actual serving staff were fine but let down by the management/system). Be careful - in your interpretation of 5 Star.The other reason we booked this boat. In no way is this a 5 Star experience;the food was poor (re-formed calamari rings for god's sake!) and we would have expected 24hr availability of (at least) snacks. A really awful and nonsensical (and highly priced) wine list (when you could access it) just added to the disappointment. Be careful - when going on excursions.In Moscow the time taken to get anywhere lead to us having an evening meal at 23.30 (I kid you not);very little time anywhere. In St Petersburg we ended up at the back of every queue even tho' we set off at 07.30 to beat the rush;we were taken to a really awful "Russian" restaurant the NO ONE wanted to be at that really disrupted a reasonable day. A night at the (poor) ballet was followed by a very dangerous 40 min attempt on the part of a thousand or so people to get out of one door;and another late night back. Viking Cruises are on notice that this particular night could lead to deaths;the couriers say they have told Viking of this but they don't care. If you ignore this review and book with Viking (there are other agencies that use other lines at much cheaper rates) do not go on this excursion - you could die. Be careful - if you try to arrange for a special occasion to be celebrated (as they advertise in the brochure).We went on this excessively priced holiday because it was supposed to be the best (it can't be) and it was my wifes 60th birthday - a real treat. Despite pre-notification Viking ignored my wifes birthday,and half-heartedly did something for our 38th wedding anniversary a week later. Other cruises have managed to sort something from the passports,not ignored specific requests. So,Russia is super;the waterways are fantastic;Moscow and St Petersburg are tremendous. If you want a cruise,however,choose a different line to Viking - they don't deliver. If you want to see the cities,go to each separately as Viking really don't allow you to see them properly (if at all). Conclusion;Viking hugely disappointing and way over priced (did I get into the crap arrangements meeting us at Moscow airport - no,didn't have time). Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most aspects of the cruise itself. Specifically: • Overall value for money: Most people we met on the cruise paid several thousands of dollars less than we did, and for supposedly better cabins. This knowledge lessened our enjoyment considerably. We advise others to book as late as possible for Viking river cruises, if you must take one, since they discount heavily closer to the sailing date to fill up the boat. • Food quality: Despite claims in Viking advertising, the food was of consistently poor quality, e.g., every fish dish I ate was tasteless, mushy, and obviously frozen not fresh. Other passengers with previous Viking experience agreed with us, but said that Viking cruises in Western Europe have much better food and service. Several other passengers also spoke with the "hotel manager" to note their unhappiness with food quality. • Service: The dining room staff was mostly young Philipinos, who were all eager to please but clearly not sufficiently experienced, properly trained for efficient service, and too few for a fully booked boat. Dinner normally took well over two hours, and we and many others had to cut short dinner in order to attend other scheduled events on board. • Our cabin: The cabin (227) was comfortable enough, except that it seemed to be directly above the engines used to stabilize the boat when going through locks. These engines were so noisy and vibrated so much that when lock passage occurred at night sleep was impossible. Viking should warn potential customers about this noise in main deck cabins, and advise them to bring ear-plugs to cope with the noise or select other cabins. • Doctor: The Kirov's Russian doctor, whose English skills were very limited, had a remarkably diffident manner when my wife banged her forehead on one of the Sky-Bar's glass doors. The clinic had no proper ice-bag, so to reduce the large swelling he recommended using a plastic garbage bag or laundry bag. Given the average age of Kirov passengers, shouldn't an ice-bag or two be among the clinic's supplies? The doctor also failed even to stand up during her visit to his office, declining as unnecessary a suggestion that he examine her forehead. Bottom line: We wrote to Viking about these problems, to which they responded with an offer of a $500 credit for a future Viking cruise. Our response to that will be "nyet." Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started ... Read More
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started out with a bang.  We were mooned by a passing boat as we sat down for our first dinner aboard the ship.  It started the cruise off with laughter and goodwill among the passengers who were lucky enough to witness the event.  We had an excellent tour of Amsterdam before we set sail for Budapest.  The first set of locks we went through to reach the Rhine river were quite tame in comparison to the locks that we encountered later on in the cruise. The countryside was peaceful, aromatic and we actually saw some real windmills.  Our first port of call was Cologne.  If you have been before, they offer a short version of the city tour.  I would definitely take this version the next time as I have seen the cathedral enough times now and would rather enjoy its quiet beauty on my own without having to listen to a tour guide wax on about their interpretation of the stained glass windows.  It was the next day when we realized the problems of being on the maiden cruise of a yet untested ship design.  We had heard the tale of Loreley when all of a sudden bang, a huge black cloud was to be seen at the stern of the ship.  The Captain and crew were unaware of the smoke until they suddenly noticed that the passengers on deck were trying to get their attention and looked.  Viking set a new legend.  The first time an anchor had been lowered on a Viking ship and the first time a Viking ship lost its power in the Loreley channel.  We waited for 2 1/2 hours for the tug boats to come and two us to safety where the Cumins engineers arrived to try to repair the engines.  At his point none of them were working.  We never did make it to Rudesheim.  They managed to get two of the three engines up and running about 4 am and we arrived in Mainz late.  We got off the ship and had our city tour, but the ship had to leave right away so that it could make up for lost time.  They put us on a bus where we had to travel a distance down the river to meet the ship.  We arrived before the ship did to the agreed meeting place.  We made it to Wertheim but due to the loss of time due to the ship breakdown ended up waiting forever to be picked up.  The ship was suppose to pick us up at 12:30 , then they said 1:30 and then the ship finally showed up at 2:15.  It was a fascinating town to be stuck in and they had good local bakeries which was a good thing as lunch was more than a little late that day. The next day we made it to Wurzburg and Rothenburg.  The tour this day was great and the Residenz palace is well worth a visit.  The lunch provided in Rothenburg was delicious and the town was fascinating.  Do make sure you visit the Christmas store while here.  We had to get off the ship early and take a bus to Nuremberg as the ship was still behind schedule.  I wish we had arrived in this city on a day other than Sunday as it basically was shut down as there are no stores, etc open on a Sunday.  They had a few ice cream and pizza restaurants open.  Regensburg wsa interesting.  Passau had an incredible local guide and just listening to her made the day very pleasant.  The organ concert was excellent.  I wish we had more time in Melk as it would have been nice not to have to rush to get back to the ship.  Durnstein I could have skipped without regret.  Vienna, what can I say.  I wish we could have more time.  The optional music concert was fabulous even though it was extremely hot in Vienna.  We enjoyed our time in a Vienna coffee house and the tour guide here was excellent.  Bratislava, quite honestly they could cut out the "choo choo train" and everyone would be quite happy.  By the time the tour guide described what you were seeing you were already past the building and could not see it anyhow. The town is interesting but it would have been nice to have a little more free time to explore on your own.  Sailing into Budapest at night was a magical experience.  I would say that this was the highlight of the entire cruise.  We did the next afternoon have the mother of all storms come in the afternoon, and people were quite happy to sit on board the ship and avoid going out in the rain and wind.  I wish the storm had not arrived as I would have liked to have seen more of the city.The local tour guides have been hand picked by Viking and it shows.  They were knowledgeable and entertaining.  With the exception of the tour guide in Cologne waxing on a little too long about the stained glass windows, I would say all of the tour guides did an excellent job.  I did feel gypped in Nuremberg as the ship arrived too late for us to have the city tour included with our WWII optional tour.The ship has some major safety concerns that need to be addressed immediately.  They have a hatch without railings  around it on the front deck that if someone was not watching could take a very nasty tumble down steep metal steps.  These steps lead from the galley to the lounge for the serving of food.  They do not have lighted exit signs on the doors leading to the staircases for emergency purposes.  They need to do something about the spacing in between the steel plates on the first deck.  If someone wasn't watching, they could easily catch a high heel in the hole and give themselves a nasty twist.I felt that the ship should have had better communication with the passengers.  With all the technical glitches, their term not ours, we should have been told what happened to the engine and that the ship was safe.  When the ship was late in arriving at some of the ports for passenger pick up there was no cruise staff to be fund until the time the ship was actually supposed to be there and then they disappeared again until the next supposed arrival time.  Quite a few of the staff members were brand new to Viking and it showed.The dining room staff bent over backwards.  I honestly felt that they could do with 2 more staff members  to speed up the process..  The ratio was 43 staff to 189 passengers.  Simply not enough staff.  They were still bringing equipment on board at the end of the cruise that should have been there before the ship set sail.  I think it would have been beneficial for the Captain and crew to have sailed the entire cruise at least once before they took a load of passengers.  The bumps in the night might not have been as noticeable if they had had a practice run of entering the locks.All said and done, I think we will be looking at another river cruise line the next time we do Europe.  We were disappointed after the service Viking had provided on the Yangtze River in China the year before. 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Sail Date: August 2009
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and ... Read More
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and were told that this is normal when the ship is in motion, the sewage sloshes! We were unable to sleep because of the stench and the fact that the A/C didn't work. Other travelers complained, with the same results... There were two large pipes leading from the ceiling into a very large wooden box in the floor, right next to the bed. The picture in the brochure shows a small table and 2 chairs - non existing! The entertainment on board (as per brochure) is also non-existing. There was a Vodka tasting, at 15 Euros per person. The Russian folkloric entertainment was in a tent and cost 26 Euros per person. Check your credit card bill - Our entire cost of the trip was paid by c/c and there was a $600 "foreign exchange fee". We booked through California, why would we have to pay this charge? Your US Dollars are being sent to Switzerland! After much aggravation, the $ 600 were refunded. On board, they use a unit system (which equals Euros). The last two days of the cruise (after the bills were settled in Euros) they switched to Rubles! The food was good until it came towards the end of the trip, by then the salad bar looked beyond wilted. The endive salad was rotted! My feeling is that Viking could care less about the comfort, or health, of their travelers. They have your money up front and know that you won't take the same cruise again. I have this gut feeling that perhaps this company is not above board.. We have traveled all continents and plan on continuing our travels but definitely NOT with Viking Cruises!Kizhi Island Located on Lake Onega (Europe's 2nd largest lake) Open air architectural museum & UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wooden churches & other buildings were brought here from other parts of Russia. Transfiguration Church - 300 years old, built completely of wood (no nails) 22 timbered onion domes. It was a rainy, gloomy day and made the church look ominous (Halloween?), but yet a very interesting excursion. Goritzy On the Shore of Lake Siverskoye Visited Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, founded in 1397 by St. Cyril filled w/ beautiful icons & frscoes. Now a museum.Yaroslavi - Called the Golden Ring city Figured prominently in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not much to explore in these ports - churches, icons, frescoes. Uglich Town dates to 1148. Foound this to be a more interesting excursion, besides just seeing icons, frescoes. Ivan the Terrible's son was mudered here. The resulting uprising caused great distruction. In 17th-18th centuries wonderful architectural buildings were constructed. Moscow Amazing City! Very clean. The Metro is easy to navigate. Metro is very clean, elegant, marble, paintings, chandeliers, sculptures - Red Square - dating to 15th century. Not as impressive as I imaged, except for the St. Basil Catheral colorful onion domes.(never got inside though) Kremlin - More cathedrals, palaces, museums & the seat of government. By now, I am tired of seeing & hearing about the icons and frescoes. Every tour guide has the same verbatum speech. Armory - Fantastic, but very difficult to get close to exhibitions, especially the Faberge' eggs. The crowds are unbelievable! Exciting city - much to see and do, but be aware of pick pockets, etc. Read Less
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